Kristina remembered the night the newsagent burnt down. Her Mum always said it was for insurance reasons. Even now the building was a shell, faded MDF covering the blackened windows, dandelions forcing their way through the concrete.
She had been allowed a quarter pound of sweets, and a can of fizzy drink once a week. The man behind the counter was tall, and often rubbed his hands together. The shop had a strange smell, a bit like dunking you nose in a sugar bowl, and small ceilings. Patches of damp hugged pipes mended with duct tape. They didn’t stock the same brands as anywhere else. You had your pick of cans with drawings of rolling forests on the label, faded grey prices with black printed price.
There was too much honey for such a small shop.
She sometimes got a comic as well, but they were always wrinkled, pierced with tiny holes, and sticky to the touch.
The night of the fire, a group gathered in their downstairs living room. Kristina guessed they met at her parents’ house because they had the biggest sofa. She knew most of them. They were sensible types, doctors and lawyers. She had met them at parties before bedtime, when they wore cream summer suits, and drank whisky and soda, or sipped champagne in tall glasses. Tonight they huddled together, wearing tracksuit bottoms, and quaffing mugs of tea. One of them carried a translucent jerry can that smell of service stations.
She got sent to bed within an hour of their arrival.
Kristina didn’t understand how her parents thought she could get to sleep considering the crackling coming from outside, and the thick smoke pouring down the street. She opened her curtain just a peek. Orange flames reflected in the windows of the flat opposite. No-one turned their lights on. The scream of the fire engines did not arise from the distance.
The thing that crawled down the road out of the smoking building was the size of a horse, but had a yellow and black thorax and six thin legs that pawed at the melting macadam. It had the shopkeeper’s head, but chunks of skin flapped off like old plasters, revealing compound eyes underneath. Unseen hands dragged it backwards, and even over the crackling of the flames you could hear an angry buzzing.
Kristina stopped watching after that.
It is amazing how quickly you get over things. How you easily you forget. Especially when a new shop opens, gleaming white, ceilings high, crisp fresh comics on the shelves, pick ‘n’ mix in containers the size of buckets, silver scoops showing off the gleaming lights above.